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Beach resilience study sparks grants debate

Compo Beach along Soundview Drive

Posted on January 8, 2024

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — A $205,249 request for a comprehensive beach resiliency planning study sparked a discussion Wednesday about pursuing grants rather than just writing checks.

Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava told the Board of Finance the study is needed to give the town an idea what could be done to make its shoreline facilities more resilient against storm events and time.

A vote on the expenditure was delayed.

“The four town beaches that we have have experienced significant erosion over the years,” Fava said. “What we’re looking to do is improve their condition.”

“The goal of this study is to make the beaches more resilient to future storms by optimizing beach nourishment profiles, to balance shoreline protection, public use, construction and maintenance cost,” she said.

The study would make recommendations how to improve each of the town’s beaches, along with estimated costs for potential projects, Fava said, “As well as provide documentation that would be necessary for any permitting for future projects. That’s really one of the key aspects of this.”

She added that if the town wants to undertake a sand replenishment project, it would need information that such a study would provide.

Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava

Board member Rich Hightower asked if there was a reason the only two bids that came in were $90,000 apart. Fava said it was likely just differences between the two firms. The specifications were the same for both.

There also were a couple of questions about why the request included a contingency cost, and it was suggested Fava lose that before returning with the request.

Danielle Dobin told fellow board members that she’d emailed Fava about a state grant program, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Climate Resilience Fund, that might fund the work.

“I want to be clear that it’s really important to do this work and to engage in this study, but I don’t think that our town necessarily needs to pay for it,” Dobin said.

She said the fund authorized $10 million last year and a second round is coming this year.

“If you look online, everything that we’re trying to accomplish fits almost perfectly in there,” Dobin said.

She said the fund provides money for resiliency planning, then more to develop such projects. Possible federal legislation might also come through to fund such projects, she added.

Danielle Dobin

“Unless it’s incredibly time sensitive right now, I would seek the grant money first,” Dobin said, suggesting the appropriation be tabled a month.

Member Jeff Hammer agreed there are a number of government programs for green projects.

“Until we’ve exhausted those opportunities, and Jen you might be saying that we have, and that’s a legitimate retort, but if we haven’t, this doesn’t seem to have a time-sensitive element to it,” Hammer said.

Fava said many such grants are reimbursements. “Most of them do not pay it up front, so you’d have to make the appropriation and then get reimbursed.”

“If there’s grants out, gosh, let’s go for it,” member Brian Stern said.

Jimmy Izzo, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 3, addressed the board.

“Most of this grant money we chase anyways,” he said. “It’s reimbursement. I think you guys should have went ahead and approved this fund tonight.”

“Let’s not neglect the beach, let’s jump on it as soon as possible,” he continued. “These things have been eroding, we have to jump on stuff like this. It is probably one of the most popular assets we have and it is used by many of our community, outside our community, it drives our real estate values. I think you guys should have approved this tonight, and I think you guys should go chase the grant money after that.”

RTM member Jimmy Izzo

RTM member Chris Tait of District 1 and chairman of its Parks and Recreation Committee, also spoke.

He agreed the beaches are one of Westport’s gems, and remembered the days decades ago when Kowalsky Brothers would move sand around and keep things flowing well. That’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time.

He told Dobin he appreciated the grants idea.

“My frustration is with, as we speak about the grants, I’ve been on the RTM, I’ve seen us blow through $4 million in four minutes, but nobody asked about grants.”

“I’ve always been an advocate that the town should have someone who goes out and looks for grants,” Tait said, though he said department heads will tell you obtaining them “is not so easy.”


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